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East Germany Table of Contents

East Germany


The most important political institution in East Germany is the ruling communist party, the Socialist Unity Party of Germany (Sozialistische Einheitspartei Deutschlands--SED). The SED was founded on April 19, 1946, in the Soviet zone of occupation through a merger of the Social Democratic Party of Germany and the Communist Party of Germany, the two major left-wing political organizations in the eastern part of Germany. The two parties had played significant roles in the Weimar Republic but had been suppressed after 1933 when the Nazis took power. Since its inception, the SED, in which the Communists achieved early dominance over the Social Democrats, has undergone a number of organizational as well as ideological changes. According to the late Peter Christian Ludz, a recognized analyst of East German politics, perhaps the most important change was the SED's shift from a totalitarian party to one that exhibited more "consultative-authoritarian" tendencies.

Significant developments have occurred since the early 1980s. In the 1970s, the SED became known as a leading exponent of Soviet-style Marxism-Leninism. East Germany was then a staunch defender of the Soviet ideological view in Eastern Europe and a critic of the more liberal Eurocommunism in Western Europe. However, the 1980s have signaled an important change in East German attitudes toward the Soviet Union and its role as a model to be emulated by other socialist countries. Although Moscow is still considered the ultimate guarantor of communist rule in East Germany, the leader of the socialist community, and East Germany's primary economic partner, since the early 1980s, East Germany has no longer viewed the Soviet Union as a model of socialist development worthy of emulation in all respects. The Soviet Union's leadership of the socialist community remains unquestioned, but the days of blind devotion appear to be over. East German officials argue that their country is at a different stage of development and that they must seek solutions that correspond to local conditions, a theme increasingly heard elsewhere in Eastern Europe since the early 1980s. Although attempts to carve out a separate identity as a socialist state have occurred before, particularly under Ulbricht in the 1960s and the early 1970s, the SED generally has been seen as an orthodox ally of Moscow and a staunch defender of Warsaw Pact unity. However, during the mid-1980s, a trend toward greater autonomy has been evident in East German ideological pronouncements and domestic policy initiatives.

Data as of July 1987